Vienna Travel Guide

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Vienna Travel Guide

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Set on the serene Danube River, grand Vienna evokes images of gilded halls, elegantly dressed men and women at the opera and some of the world’s greatest minds gathering in Viennese coffee houses for heady conversation. From Schonbrunn Palace to the Ringstrasse to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the historical marvels of Vienna will keep you busy for several days. Vienna is easily walkable and has an efficient public transportation system, so sightseeing is a breeze. Take a walking tour, attend the opera or a classical concert, explore history in one of the intriguing museums – here are our answers to your pressing questions about Vienna and what to see while you’re there.
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Is Vienna, Austria, Worth Visiting?
Looking for the quintessential European experience? Vienna fits the bill. The Austrian capital city woos visitors with its elegant architecture and classic culture. Whether you’re strolling through a buzzling Christmas market, attending the opera or enjoying the famous Viennese café culture, this is the essence of Europe, all tied up in a tidy package.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Vienna?
To get your bearings and really canvas Vienna’s attractions, plan to spend between three and five days there. Three will give you enough time to hit many of the top spots mentioned in this Vienna, Austria travel guide, but if you have the time, adding a fourth or fifth day will allow you to add on special-interest destinations or venture outside the city limits.
What Is the Best Month to Visit Vienna?
High season in Vienna is June to August, so perhaps the best month to visit Vienna would be April, May, September or October when the weather is still lovely and the crowds have thinned. December is also popular for the city’s beautiful Christmas markets and the general holiday cheer in the air.
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What Is the Best Location to Stay in Vienna?
The various neighborhoods (Bezirke) of Vienna have their own personality and price point. There are 23 neighborhoods in total – each is numbered and as a general rule, the lower the number, the closed the district is to the city center. We’ve outlined a few of the most popular neighborhoods to help inform your accommodation choice for your Vienna itinerary.
 
The Innere Stadt – Inner City – is District 1, so following the rule we mentioned above, this is the city’s heart. The Innere Stadt is surrounded by Districts 2-9. It’s surrounded the Ringstrasse and the district itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its many histori buildings an postcard-perfect cobblestone streets.
 
Districts 3-9 are The Vorstadt (Inner Suburbs). Both the Innere Stadt and Vorstadt are excellent choices for being close to most of the city’s main attractions. (The Innere Stadt is also great for shopping – the Golden U’s Karntner Strasse shopping street is here.)
 
Across the Danube Canal from the Innere Stadt, over one of the many pedestrian-friendly bridges, you’ll find Leopoldstadt. If you’re looking for urban green space, this is the place – you can take a walk or have a picnic at 1,500-acre Prater Public Park. Choose the inner Leopoldstadt area for the famous Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel, excellent dining and even a sandy beach along the Danube.
 
Landstrasse (District 3), another neighborhood option, places you near the Wien Mitte train station, the Belvedere Palace and Gardens and the Wieden district.
Choose the Schleifmuhlgasse, perhaps Vienna’s hippest neighborhood, if you’re looking for art galleries, whiskey bars, boutique shopping on the Mariahilferstrasse, the Naschmarkt outdoor marketplace and the city’s main train station, Wien Westbahnhof.
 
For nightlife – and less expensive accommodation options – consider staying in the chic Spittelberg neighborhood, known for its university vibe. The Neubau District, with its renowned Museumsquartier, is nearby.
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Is Vienna a Walkable City?
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Vienna is inherently walkable and considered one of the Europe’s most pedestrian-friendly cities. In fact, nearly half of the city’s area is dedicated to urban green space. There are several car-free areas within the historic Innere Stadt, as well as expansive parks, like the Stadtpark and the Prater. Thanks to the efficient public transportation system, it’s also easy for visitors to get to outlying green spaces, including Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, the Vienna woods (Wienerwald) and historic vineyards.
Is it Expensive in Vienna?
Given its elegant nature, you may expect Vienna to be an expensive European city to visit. However, it actually compares to London and in general is just above average when it comes to prices in other European capitals. Consider saving money in the following ways:
 

  • Pick up snacks and drinks at supermarkets, including the souvenir marzipan balls (Mozartkugeln) and Mozart-themed marzipan chocolates (instead of at souvenir shops)
  • When comparing restaurants, look at what their schnitzel goes for – it’s on just about every menu and will give you a good idea of how expensive a particular eatery is going to be.
  • Use the public transportation system – it’s inexpensive and efficient.
  • Consider purchasing a Vienna Pass if you plan to visit a lot of tourist attractions.
Do They Speak English in Vienna?
Austria is a German-speaking nation, but you will find that in District 1 (Innere Stadt), quite a few restaurant and shop employees speak English. Outside of District 1, fewer Austrians speak English readily. However, most Austrians have a relatively good grasp of English, as it is taught in the schools.
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Is the Vienna Pass Worth It?
For those who want to see as much of Vienna’s top attractions as possible, consider the Vienna Pass, which offers free entrance to more than 60 destinations within the city (with Fast Pass, so you can skip the lines). The Vienna Pass also enables you to use the hop-on/hop-off bus service throughout the city, connecting you to different points of interest. You’ll also receive a free guidebook to help you with your Vienna itinerary and a travelcard for the Vienna tram. The Vienna Pass is available in 24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour and six-day forms.
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What Is Vienna Famous For?
If you’re into history and architecture, Vienna is for you. Vienna was fortunate to have survived World War II relatively unscathed – as opposed to many other European cities, only about 20 percent of the city was destroyed. Many important landmarks remained standing, including Vienna’s City Hall, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and several royal palaces. Look for Gothic and Baroque architectural styles, among many others, dating back through the centuries.
 
If you love café culture and coffee, you’re in for a treat in Vienna. Viennese coffee houses serve up a fantastic cup of joe and the simple act of hanging out in one of the cafes and wiling away the hours is as much a part of authentic Viennese life as any other activity. Traditional coffee houses like Café Central and Demel are worth a stop for their elegant ambience. No cup of coffee in Vienna is complete with the famous Viennese treats and sweets – try the rich Sachertorte, a Viennese chocolate cake, apple strudel or the fluffy Kaiserschmarrn pancake.
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If you’re a music lover, you’ve come to the right place. Known as the “Capital of Classical Music” – Beethoven and Mozart both called Vienna home, the city is ripe with classical music performances for both the symphony enthusiast and the newbie. There are grand operas performed at the magnificent Vienna State Opera House, dating back to the 1860s – entering the lavish hall and taking a seat here is sure to make you feel like the royalty of days past. Strauss, Haydn and Berg all spent a significant amount of time making their timeless music in Vienna – there are statues dedicated to both Schubert and Strauss in the Stadtpark. Can’t make it to the opera house? Attend a Summer Night Concert, which take place at the end of May on the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace. And don’t miss the House of Music (Haus der Musik) in the Innere Stadt, a small, insightful museum dedicated to Vienna’s famous musician and the Vienna Philharmonic.
So, What Should I See in Vienna?
In no particular order, here are the top sightseeing destinations in Vienna. Depending on your Vienna itinerary and how many days you have, see one, see four, see them all!
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1. Stephansplatz
This is where you’ll find iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, but before you head inside, take time to explore the bustling square. There’s a network of pedestrian-friendly streets here – there’s shopping along Graben, coffee shops smack dab in the middle of the streets and entertaining buskers everywhere (particularly near the Baroque statue of Pestsäule).
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2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
After you’ve soaked up the Vienna street vibe in Stephansplatz, head inside the massive, Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, at the heart of the Innere Stadt – the cathedral has stood here since the early 12th century. Surviving all that time are the Riesentor (Giant’s Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens). The colorful stained-glass windows are things of wonder, as is the ornate nave and the carvings on the pulpit. Go underground to the catacombs, the final resting place of so many of the victims of the Great Plague of Vienna; visit the gruft, where several urns containing Hapsburg royal family member remains are housed; and climb the 343 steps to the South Tower (you can also go by elevator to the North Tower).
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3. Wiener Riesenrad
Take a spin on the Viennese giant Ferris wheel, dating back to 1897. (You might recognize it from the 1987 James Bond film, The Living Daylights.) At the top – approximately 213 feet high – you’ll have a panoramic view of Vienna. Interesting tidbit – after damage incurred during World War II, the wheel was rebuilt with only 15 of its original 30 gondolas.
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4. Schonbrunn Palace
A true “must” when you’re visiting Vienna, this Baroque Palace is the epitome of Vienna’s royal personality. It was first built as a hunting lodge in 1696 and later was the summer home to the Hapsburg family. Take a tour of 40 of the palace’s approximately 1,400 rooms and see how European royalty lived during the 17th to 19th centuries. You’ll have the chance to see royal apartments belonging to Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler) and Emperor Franz Joseph, the Blue Staircase, the Mirror Room and the Hall of Ceremonies. Don’t miss the lovely landscaped Privy Garden or Schonbrunner Schloss Park.
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5. Palmenhaus Schonbrunn
While you’re at Schonbrunn Palace, check out this this botanical masterpiece, with its 19th-century art nouveau greenhouse. There are plant species from all over the world here, and an on-site restaurant.
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6. Schonbrunn Zoo
Everyone – and families, in particular – love the Tiergarten Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Zoo), the oldest zoo in the world (dating back to 1752). It’s not everyday you’ get to see animals, including giant pandas, in a Baroque-influenced landscape. The original menagerie belonged to Maria Theresa’s husband, Franz Stephan and has since grown to more than 8,000 animals from approximately 750 species.
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7. Hofburg Palace
The 13th-century Hofburg Palace sits on the southwestern edge of the Innere Stadt and is, in a word, huge. Plan to spend at least half a day exploring the complex, from the Swiss Court to the Imperial Apartments. Learn about Empress Elisabeth in the Kaiserappartements’ Sisi Museum and gush over the Imperial Silver Collection. On Sundays at the palace, you can here the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing during mass at the Royal Chapel. And don’t miss the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School.
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8. Museum of Natural History
Check out more than 30 million specimens and artifacts from around the globe in nearly 40 exhibition halls at this mighty museum in the MuseumsQuartier. Look for minerals, meteorites and dinosaur fossils and soar into space in the planetarium. (While you’re in this area, the southwest section of the Ringstrasse, plan to visit the Leopold Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Architecture Center and the ZOOM Kindermuseum.
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9. Volksgarten
Vienna does love its gardens and Volksgarten, part of the Hofburg Palace in the Innere Stadt, is no exception to the beauty these green spaces provide to both residents and visitors. Spend a sunny day wandering through the rose gardens and manicured flowerbeds – there are more than 3,000 rose bushes from 200 different rose cultivars. There are several notable statues on the grounds, including one of Empress Elisabeth.
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10. Vienna State Opera House
Whether or not you’re an opera and classical music fan, the grand opera house is a must-see. It’s a lavish as it was back in the 1860s and you’ll feel like royalty yourself in its gilded halls. There are 40-minute tours held daily for a behind-the-scenes look at the landmark, or you can splurge on opera tickets (well worth the price!). Want more history? Visit the Staatsopermuseum, which outlines the opera house’s past through photographs and articles.
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11. Museum of Fine Arts
Art lovers can’t miss this fantastic museum on the Ringstrasse between the MuseumsQuartier and the Hofburg Palace. Look for ancient Egyptian and Greek artifacts and masterpieces by Velasquez, Van Dyke and Rubens.
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12. Naschmarkt
Shop like a local at the huge Naschmarkt, brimming with food stalls, fresh fruit, meat and dairy products. It’s open Monday through Saturday in the Wieden District, just south of the Ringstrasse. Samples are readily available, so come hungry!
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13. Belvedere Palace
Want more palaces? Head to Belvedere, where there are actually two. There’s a 17th-century garden separating the palaces – formerly the homes of such notables as Prince Eugene of Savoy and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Within each of the of the Baroque palaces today, visitors can view important Austrian art from Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and others.

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